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6 Ways Kids Play Without Toys

Play is work when you’re a little kid. It may seem silly to you but remember when we used to pretend to be a princess or feeding a doll, we were actually building physical skills and developing complex thinking. These mental leaps don’t occur only during “big” games like putting together train tracks or building a city with blocks. Your child may be absorbed in little activities that don’t make much sense (or seem like fun to you) – so, don’t be deceived. 

Here are six surprising ways that little kids play (and learn) and how you can join in the fun, too:

  1. Again, Again!

    Repetition is another characteristic of functional play. When your child does something over and over again, they may be doing it for a reason. Maybe they like the sound of that cup hitting the floor. Beyond that, your future scientist is having his first encounter with cause and effect. The fact that they have the power to make this happen again (and again, and again, and again…) may provide them with a feeling of security.

    What you can do: Your little one may also enjoy the unexpected. The next time she drops that cup, secretly catch it, and sneak it back onto the high-chair tray. They may be confused at first, and then delighted once again.

  2. Getting Dirty

    Sometimes, games can get dirty. Other times, getting dirty is the game. They squish mud between their bare toes, dump sand over their head, or stick their face in mashed potatoes. The thrill is creating a richer sensory experience. They don’t want to just look at mud, but they want to feel it. Just like they want to watch sand fall and smell potatoes close to their nose. They may not mean to make a mess; it just happens in the course of play.

    What you can do: Messy play can be very good for kids, so give them space where making a mess is okay sometimes. But do reinforce safety, like not putting non-food items in his mouth.

  3. Lining Up Toys

    Some parents worry that carefully organising blocks or other play things may be a sign of autism. In most cases, however, this is a normal stage of development and a beloved game for many young ones. As early as 18 months, your tiny tot may start lining up toys in “order” – for example, all the red trains on the chair, all of the action figures with hats under the table, or even all your pots on the kitchen floor! By doing this, they’re starting to make connections and identify common traits.

    What you can do: Young children, especially toddlers don’t have the verbal skills to explain how they classify and sort objects. Help them by articulating the obvious: “All these blocks are blue.”

    Building blocks

  4. Climbing In A Box

    It’s a universal phenomenon. Give a child a toy and they’ll play with the wrapping. While older kids may turn a box into a spaceship, very young children don’t have the ability to think symbolically about cardboard. Your three-year-old loves the box simply because it’s a box. She can drag it along, sit inside it, open the flaps and close them. Among toddlers, this is called functional play. It helps them learn about the physical nature of objects and simple concepts such as opening and closing.

    What you can do: Feel free to let them examine non-toy items. It’s a good way for them to learn about their environment, but be sure they’re safe, check boxes for staples, and stay close by to monitor them play.

  5. Talking To Themselves

    Sneak a peek and you may hear some very detailed storytelling going on. Even toddler who seem to be emitting a jumble of sounds will sometimes “talk” to themselves while playing. This is called ego-centric speech. Your little linguist isn’t looking for someone to interact with. In addition to being adorable, this activity lets your child practise saying words out loud (even if they’re made up). It also builds confidence so that they’ll eventually be more comfortable talking in public.

    What you can do: It’s important to encourage your tot to play independently. Practising their verbal skills will also help them learn to entertain themselves. So, sit out this one, Mum – just watch and melt!

  6. Singing

    It’s natural for children to love music. Your musical maven may not be able to say all (or most) of the words in a song, but even toddlers can hum along to a tune. Singing becomes a game, especially when you teach songs that have specific movements, such as finger plays. While the song itself might be the game, it can provide comfort or help them concentrate. Memorising songs is also great for building cognitive skills. |

    What you can do: Music can be a great motivator. Try singing a playful tune when it’s time to clean up, brush teeth, or get ready for bed.

The original version of this article was published in the October issue of the Singapore’s Child.